December 4, 2009 8:55:00 AM
JACKSON -- Through three games, the Aberdeen High School offense hardly looked like a juggernaut.
Injuries to the quarterback have a way of slowing things down.
But once senior quarterback Aaron Andrews got healthy he quickly discovered how good the Bulldogs'' offense could be.
Not only did he have a talented duo of Jamerson Love and Victor Hodges at running back, but he also had senior wide receivers Erik Buchanan, Mario Lucas, and Rashad Pargo and junior Jalen Devauld to throw to.
Any quarterback would love to have that many weapons at his disposal. Andrews and the Bulldogs will showcase their arsenal one final time at 11 a.m. Saturday when they take on Tylertown in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A state title game at Mississippi Memorial Stadium.
"The offense has matured a whole lot," Buchanan said. "This is Aaron''s first year at quarterback and he is pretty used to it by now. He has bought into it and he has been getting better and better each game."
Andrews, who took over at quarterback after Marcus Hinton graduated, was injured early in the season opener against Columbus. The Bulldogs lost to the Class 6A Falcons 27-26 in double overtime. Andrews didn''t play the following week in a victory against Ray Brooks. He returned the following week but still wasn''t at 100 percent in a loss to Pontotoc.
Since then, though, the Bulldogs'' passing attack has flourished. Aberdeen has passed for 155 yards or more in every game except one (a playoff victory against Charleston). Andrews also has thrown for at least one touchdown in each game (except Charleston), including a season-best five against Houston and four against Water Valley, South Pontotoc, and Ripley.
Aberdeen coach Chris Duncan said the Bulldogs have done a great job of working through the struggles early in the season. He credits offensive coordinator Kris Pickle for making sure all four receivers have been involved in a balanced offense that has piled up 2,644 yards passing.
"Having three guys who are all going to get scholarships on one team doesn''t happen very often," Duncan said. "Coach Pickle is a former receiver and he loves throwing the ball. Those guys have kind of been under his wing. They are three-year starters, and I can''t say enough about the things they do."
Buchanan leads the receivers with 46 catches and 823 yards. He also has seven touchdowns. Pargo (32 catches, 805 yards) leads the group with eight touchdowns, while Lucas is right behind with 30 catches for 655 yards and seven touchdowns.
Balance that with the duo of Love (1,647 yards, 18 rushing touchdowns) and Hodges (876, seven) and you have an offense that can keep defenses guessing.
"They all are athletic and can run and jump and catch," Duncan said. "I think they all complement each other because you can''t double one of them you will have the other ones open. I think them being able to play together has helped them with those things. They are unselfish and know if they are running clearing routes someone else is going to catch it."
Love said he enjoys having a talented group of receivers because it allows him and Hodges to avoid defenses that stack the line of scrimmage to try to stop the run. He said defenses that key on stopping one of the Bulldogs on offense will pay the price.
"With three years in the spread offense, as the years went on they have gotten better and better," Love said. "Some of them just like to go up and get the ball. Some of them like to take screen passes. It is just hard to stop."
Buchanan said speed, instinct, fundamentals, and getting off the ball and getting open have allowed the wide receivers to be so successful. He also credits Pickle''s schemes for maximizing the players'' skills.
"Pargo is a deep threat," Buchanan said. "Mario is quick getting off the line. He is one of our quicker receivers. Jalen is a quick receiver, too, and he has one of the best sets of hands on the team. I guess I am more like a possession receiver."
The receivers have pooled their talent this season to give Aberdeen a chance to win its first football state title. The maturity of Andrews (30 touchdowns) has made the transition to a new quarterback easier, and Buchanan hopes the Bulldogs can complete the journey Saturday with another balanced effort.
"We have a saying when we break the huddle, ''How do we work?'' Hard. How do we win? Together, What are we? No. 1. We got state champs on three," Buchanan said. "We have been doing that after every game and after every practice for the whole season."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.